In the summer of 2010, we took the opportunity to make our first international trip together while our foster son was at camp. This trip was also an early 10th anniversary celebration for us. This is the first of a three part series on our week long trip to the Tokyo area in the summer of 2010. During the week, we took two trips outside Tokyo: One to climb Mount Fuji (described in Part 2
) and one to Hakone (Part 3
). Instead of telling our story in chronological order, this entry - and the photos - are organized by theme.
Cultural Highlight 1: Ghibli Museum
There was one sightseeing item we were 100%!i(MISSING)n agreement with: The Ghibli Museum showcasing the work of acclaimed anime director's Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli. Before we left for Tokyo, we looked at the museum's website
and saw that there is a life-size cat bus (from My Neighbor Totoro) on the premises. We were so excited at the prospect of riding a cat bus until we saw in small print "for ages 12 and under". Grrr.
The Ghibli Museum is situated in a Tokyo suburb called Mitaka, about 20 minutes west of Shinjuku by train. At
Cultural Highlight 1: Ghibli Museum
The bus that plies between Mitaka station and the Ghibli Museum.
Mitaka station, there is a dedicated bus painted with Miyazaki's critter characters to take you to the museum. Arriving at the museum, your pre-purchased ticket is exchanged for a actual still from a film; mine looked like it came from Pom Poko, one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films. Yaay! With tickets in hand, we made a beeline to the cat bus to give stink eye to the kids enjoying it. Boo!
The museum itself was fascinating. A lot of real estate was dedicated to My Neighbor Totoro, including a really cool spinning display. There was also a theater showing short films; we watched a 20 minute film about a lost puppy.
Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside the museum but we could take photos outside the main museum building.
Cultural Highlight 2: A Visit to a Cat Cafe
During our exploration of Tokyo, our interest was piqued by "Cat Magic" posters. Investigating further, we learned that Tokyo has over 30 cat cafes. Because many Tokyo apartment dwellers are not allowed to have pets, some enterprising business people set up cat cafes where Tokyoites who are starved of feline company may go to get their fix.
Looking at the options, we opted to go for Calico Cafe in Harajuku.
Finding the cafe itself took a while thanks to Tokyo's bizarre address system, but we eventually found it. The Calico Cat Cafe was on the fifth floor of a nondescript building. Here's the drill: You must exchange your shoes for slippers and wash your hands with soap and water before you even enter the front door. Once past the front door, you are asked to hold your hands out for the staff to squirt hand sanitizer on it. Properly sanitized, they place a lanyard around your neck with a tag recording the time you arrived. While at the cafe, you are handed a menu with overpriced sodas on it, and it is considered impolite to not buy a drink. I opted for a small, very watered down diet coke with a lot of ice costing JPY250. When you are ready to leave, you hand the tag back and they will charge you by the 15-minute block. Sounds very much like a strip club, doesn't it?
While you are in the cat cafe, the most important rules are that you should not interact with any sleeping
cats, and you cannot pick them up. There were about 20 cats on the premises. Many of them were sleeping. They were friendly, but you got the sense that they had already had too much human interaction that weekend, and they were pretty much in "enough already" mode. Regardless, they were all sweet and friendly.
Cultural Highlight 3: Harajuku
We went to Harajuku on Sunday to see the cos play kids and the girls dressed up as goths and lolitas. Our experience began on the subway headed to Harajuku station where we shared a subway car with kids already dressed in their costumes. One kid wore nothing but a red speedo with a golden spigot at his crotch. That kid has cajones. At Harajuku, they posed for us. Unfortunately, it rained that day so there weren't a lot of cos play performances. The rockabilly performers at nearby Yoyogi Park were also rained out. We had a pleasant afternoon exploring the shops in the area as well as the nearby Meiji Shrine. Jeff especially loved the 100 yen store (he loves 99c stores in the US and I frequently have to rein him in from buying junk). We also
had a great vegetarian lunch at the excellent Mominoki House.
Cultural Highlight 4: The Shinjuku Ni-Chome Walk of Shame
Our stay at the City Hotel Lonestar came with an unexpected bonus: A front row view of the Shinjuku Ni-Chome Walk of Shame. Our hotel is located in an area with a number of bars, and it also provided free breakfast in a second-floor room with big windows fronting the street. Every morning at breakfast, we amused ourselves viewing inebriated young men doing the walk of shame after a night of debauchery.
Cultural Highlight 5: Playing Dance Dance Revolution in Japan
Jeff is a Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) addict and on his list was to play DDR in the land of its birth. Unfortunately, there were few DDR machines to be found as DDR was already on the decline in 2010, but we did find one. "Fossil" (his DDR handle since he is at least twice the age of anyone else playing it) realized this dream of his, and he even got to put his name down as a high score. He attracted surprisingly little attention given his size, his blondness and the fact that his left
Cultural Highlight 5: Jeff Plays DDR in Japan
Jeff plays DDR in the land of its birth. Note that his left arm is immobilized. He went up Mt Fuji that way too.
forearm was immobilized.
Cultural Highlight 6: Japan: Out-Cuteing the West Since Forever
Where do I begin? The tv commercials? Teddy bear garbage bag clips? The use of Engrish? Hip Harajuku fashions? Traffic lights that play songs so that the blind know when to cross? Tanuki statues everywhere? Even their earth moving equipment on Mt Fuji was cute - they had a logo of a mother cat carrying a kitten.
We did go to the must see Meiji Shrine and the Sensoji Temple. They were both striking structures set on pretty premises. At Sensoji, we drew a not-so-good fortune which we should have heeded. You see, just prior to our trip, we had decided to relocate from Honolulu to Washington DC for a job Jeff could not say no to. Unfortunately, that job fell apart (it never really took off even), I had trouble finding work there, and our relationship with our foster son went downhill. We ended up returning to Hawaii after two years. We should have heeded that fortune!
Other sightseeing highlights included Shibuya Crossing, the Hachiko statue at Shibuya station, and walking around and soaking up the atmosphere in Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya
Sightseeing: Hachiko Statue, Shibuya
For ten years, Hachiko came to Shibuya station every day in the evening to wait for his deceased owner to return home.
Tokyo is not the friendliest place if you are seeking to get somewhere with only an address and a not-to-scale map. Arriving into Shinjuku after sundown, we walked in circles for 45 minutes in the rain after exiting the subway station before we finally found our hotel. The next morning, while eating breakfast, we observed many people walking into an alleyway about 50 feet from our hotel. We decided to check it out and we were amused to find that the subway station was right there. D'oh!
USD1 = JPY100. Sights:
The Ghibli Museum is definitely worth the excursion out of Central Tokyo, but you must purchase your tickets before arrival. In the US, JTB acts as their sales agent. Make sure you give enough time for them to process your credit card payment and snail mail the tickets to you. Tickets were $10 each in 2010. Getting around:
The subway system is efficient and comprehensive. A subway veteran should have little trouble figuring it out. There is English signage everywhere, but it still helps if you can read some kanji and/or Chinese. Before setting off for your destination,
find out which subway exit to use in advance. Accommodation:
City Hotel Lonestar in Shinjuku 2 is good value for money. We paid JPY8400 for weekdays and JPY9400 for weekends. The rooms are small, but the hotel is very upfront about it on their website where they specified that the rooms were 11.2 square meters and that the bed was 134 cm wide. The rooms come with a tiny attached bathroom, tv and free internet. Despite the Lone Star moniker, there was nothing Texan about the hotel. If you are going to Hakone and returning a few days later, they will keep your luggage there so you can travel light to Hakone. Eating:
Food was a slight problem for Jeff the vegetarian. I generally don't eat meat but I do eat seafood so I had fewer problems. We had a few surprises ordering food at some places. For example, at a tempura restaurant, Jeff pointed to "I am vegetarian" in the phrasebook, expecting that the staff would give him only vegetable tempura, but they said no. It was only on our last day in Tokyo that we found a place that would give him tempura vegetables only, and
Vegetarian Tempura, Finally!
After a few miscommunication incidents, we finally got vegetable tempura on our last night in Tokyo. Other restaurants we went to would not serve a tempura set without seafood.
that was at a chain restaurant. We ended up eating at a Thai restaurant twice because I could at least order for him in Thai. Strict vegetarians should plan their meals in advance. Momonoki House in Harajuku is a good option for vegetarians.
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